Monday, March 12, 2007

Number 1 Fan Girl: Why Ken Bruen Rocks...2x

Crime fiction encompasses a huge variety of sub-genres, offering something for just about everybody. Don't like a lot of violence? There's whole array of so-called "cozy" mysteries for the more genteel reader. Want a little paranormal with your murder and mayhem? Have no fear, plenty of ghosts & ghoulies available to hold your interest. Like some steamy sex with your steaming corpses? Yep, you can get that too. P.I. stories, police procedurals, amateur sleuths, cat detectives, complex capers, international spies, serial killers - the list goes on and on.

And then there's Ken Bruen.

The first time I read a Bruen novel (THE GUARDS, the first of the Jack Taylor books), I thought,now this is what I'm talkin' about, this is exactly what I've been searching for. The rhythmic elements and deft way he has of finding exactly the right word or phrase kicked the novel up way past ordinary. I'm still not sure how or why, but Bruen managed to take a deeply damaged character and make me care about him, made me silently cheer him on, even as I watched the character screw up over and over and over again. And the unexpected gift was the humor running through the novel like a ribbon of dark, sparkling humanity. Literary magic.

Hooked, I started digging around and was thrilled to find that Bruen's been a busy man. I've got plenty of his novels and short stories to keep me busy - thank the writing gods for that! I'll tell ya a secret, though. I'm taking my time. While it's easy to race through his writing (most of his work reads like water), I'm savoring each one, taking my time to let the words roll around in my mind, watching to see how he does it.

AMERICAN SKIN, Bruen's latest novel, broke my heart. I read a lot of blurbs and reviews that emphasized the fast pace and the violence, but in my opinion these are lesser elements. A deep river of love runs through the story, feeding the loss and guilt that constantly threatens to drown protag Stephen Black. Bruen moves back in forth in time effortless, taking his reader from Ireland to New York, Las Vegas to Tucson. The effect is both disorienting and intoxicating. If you haven't picked up this book yet, you're missing out.

Of all the crime fiction writers I've read over the years (and yeah, I've still got a TBR list a mile long), Ken Bruen is the one who gives me hope for the genre. I'm not knocking the potato chip writers (you know what I'm talkin' zip through the book, it's fun, but ultimately forgettable). There's a place for those books, but I crave more than empty lit calories. Bruen transcends the genre, taking crime fiction to a new level, while asking more of and giving more to his readers. The man writes, a rare commodity.

I don't want to write like Bruen - that would be like wanting to be a counterfeit artist - but I do hope to find the clear, authentic voice of my own. Bruen's work inspires me to keep reaching, to dig a little deeper, not to be afraid to speak the truth and shame the devil. Even when it's an ugly truth. Do I sound like a total fan-girl? Yeah, well, I am. So sue me.

I'm not going to say that Bruen's books are for everyone. If you don't like violence (and if that's the case, then I'm wondering why the hell you'd be reading crime fic in the first place), or if you can't cope with profanity, then you probably won't be all that excited about his books. Your loss. Me? I'm gonna go finish up THE KILLING OF THE TINKERS. I've got 3 of his books more set aside for when I can't stand waiting any more & need to be reminded of what truly excellent writing is.


At 11:15 AM, Blogger M. G. Tarquini said... like him, eh?

*ducks, runs*

At 12:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll have to see if I can find one in the library.

At 9:25 PM, Blogger angie said...

Start off with The Guards, Steve. Think you'll really like it!


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